Sacred Joy [The Twelve Days of #QUEST2015 Day 7]


joy, #quest2015


How could you make moments of joy a sacred priority in 2015?
What forms will such moments take?

The seventh prompt for reflection in Quest 2015 comes from Sunni Brown. In addition to the prompt, she encouraged us to doodle, draw, photograph, or write into these questions.

The word sacred tripped me up immediately. One of my current journeys is trying to find secular language for natural human experiences that traditionally inspire religions interpretations. In my lifelong quest for understanding of my so-called spiritual experiences, I have spent many years working with interpretations of religious language that are expansive enough to include my experience as someone who is uncomfortable with any interpretation of these experiences that cannot be verified empirically. And, I am tired of it. I want language that doesn’t require me to translate it internally for my comfort.

That said, one definition of sacred is that which is entitled to reverence and respect. Reverence is a deep form of respect, one that reaches towards devotion and honour.

So, in secular language, the prompt is How could you make moments of joy a priority and show them honour and respect?

And this is a question I know how to answer.

I can make moments of joy a priority by actively looking for them, noticing them, and savouring them. I can follow my body wisdom toward activities that tend to trigger joy.

I can show them honour and respect by not rushing them, by allowing them to take space and time in my life for as long as possible. In some cases, I will be able to honour them by documenting them – taking a photograph or writing a poem. In others, sharing them with others, pointing out a joy trigger to someone nearby, will be appropriate.

I did respond to the invitation to doodle, draw, or photograph into these questions as opposed to my more traditional writing. But, with a slight twist. I used playful digital photo manipulation as my entry point into today’s prompt.

Those who have been following my Quest 2015 posts may have noticed a pattern to the images at the top of my posts in this series. They are all variations on the same image. I knew I wanted to link the posts together visually when I started the series, so I found a background image and started working.

Image from GraphicStock

The background image


I cropped to a square I like, and then generated 18 colour variations using the tools at PicMonkey. I added the hashtag #quest2015 and a border, then waited for the prompts to be revealed. Each time a prompt is revealed, I select a ready to use image, add the prompt title, and put it in my post.

I played with some options that I chose didn't fit with the style I was going for.

I played with some options that didn’t fit with the style I was going for.


When I made the pink and yellow variation, I liked it, but wasn’t sure I would use it because it seemed very different from the others I had chosen. However, it struck me as perfect for this prompt, so I used it.

The Blank Canvas

But, it was missing something. So, I played around in PicMonkey, adding stickers and effects, deleting them, trying new effects, and finally settling on adding stars. After some playing around, I had added 5 star effects to the picture and created an image I liked – the one at the top of this page.

And, in playing with the images, I unlocked my resistance to the prompt and was able to dive in and write.

Sunni Brown is leader of The Doodle Revolution – a global campaign for visual literacy and also the name of her new book. Sunni is also the author of Gamestorming, named one of Amazon’s Top 100 Business Books, which lays out visual thinking techniques for business. Sunni’s common sense, wit, and pragmatic applications of neuroscience have led her to consult with Disney, Sharpie, Zappos, and elsewhere. Her TED Talk “Doolders Unite!” has been viewed over 1 million times, and Fast Company named Sunni one of the Top 100 Most Creative People in Business.

Serendipity & Awe [The Twelve Days of #QUEST2015 Day 2]

Serendipity, Awe, #Quest2015



Jeffrey Davis at Tracking Wonder put together a program to help business artists plan for 2015 in an unusual way. Quest 2015 consists of a community of people and prompts that are sent out for people to respond to 12 times during the month of December. Part of the community building is through sharing blog posts, so I will be posting more frequently between now and the end of my reflections. After the 12 reflection posts, I’ll be back to my regular, irregular posting schedule.

Prompt Two

The second prompt for reflection in Quest 2015 comes from Jason Silva.

In what ways might you artfully curate your life in 2015 to occasion serendipity, creativity and awe?
Ontological designing says: We design our world and the world designs us back.
What are the linguistic and creative choices you can make in 2015 that will in turn act back upon you and transform you?

When I read this prompt, I immediately thought of the practice I started this fall of walking by the shores of Lake Ontario almost every day. I wrote myself a prescription: 10 deep breaths on the lake shore 3-5 times a week. Even when I cannot make time for more than those 10 deep breaths, that time centres me and opens me up to the wonder in the world. On the days when I walk the shore for longer, stopping when something catches my eye, being there transforms me.

I find my best self by the lake shore.

Many moments of awe surprise me when I walk in nature: a bird call, a butterfly that catches my eye, the sun breaking through grey clouds. Each comes as a surprise, captures my attention, and then passes into the next moment.

Walking in nature feeds my soul, feels meaningful, and refocuses me on wonder.

Part of the power of walking in nature is the walk, part is the awe nature inspires in me. In his video How We Create Serendipity, Jason Silva talks about those chance occurrences that improve our lives and posits that they happen more often in contexts where extremes are juxtaposed, where things that do not fit with each other enter the same space and shake things up. And, it struck me that my walks by the lake shore are moments of juxtaposition.

To get from my house to the lake, I drive through manicured suburban streets that could be anywhere, past houses that could be in England or in Canada. When I get to the shore, there is nowhere else that I could be. No other strip of land looks like this. No other day has ever made the waves just like this with the light just so. My excursion to the shore is palpably unique. And when I return to what could be suburban monotony, for a period after my visit to the lake, I remain awake to the moment that is.

To curate my life to invite creativity, serendipity, and awe is as simple as getting to the lake as often as possible.

But, I could do more. I take at least one picture every time that I go to the lake, to capture over time the variety I encounter. I have empty picture frames, frames I bought that were the wrong size for a project. Hanging a few of my pictures of the lake in my house will serve as a reminder of the transformative power of the lake, both reminding me to get out of the house and go to the shore, and inspiring me on the days when I do not go. And so, I have a creative project that I hope will work on me in the mysterious ways of nature, serendipity and awe.

According to his bio, Jason Silva is an epiphany addict, media artist, futurist, philosopher, keynote speaker, and TV personality. He is the creator of Shots of Awe (13 million views) and the Emmy-nominated host of National Geographic’s Brain Games.

Mysticism, Theatre, and the Space Between

This is a continuation of my riffs on the idea of Minding the Gap that started here. It also connects to my series Salvation via the Stage, with previous posts here and here.

When I was a student at Starr King, I was introduced to the work of Martin Buber. Buber wrote about existence as dialogue, encounters between individuals, inanimate objects, and all of reality. For Buber, God was the eternal other and could be experienced through moments with art, nature, other people, and the world. Putting Buber’s ideas together with my growing secular humanism and my theatrical theories, I came to the idea that God happens in the space between people.

I no longer use words related to God or the divine to explain my understanding of the world. However, I do believe that the space between people and between individuals and the wider world holds the potential for wonder and awe.

I have had three experiences in my life that I would classify as mystical, by which I mean transcending human understanding. All three have happened in the context of the theatre. And all three were experiences in which I felt a connection to the reaches of the universe in one sense or another.

Being Heard by the Universe

For many years, I had easy access to dark theatres. A theatre that is “dark” is one in which the stage is not in use for a current or upcoming performance. All that exists in a dark theatre is the potential for performance.

When I had things on my mind that I wanted to get out, but didn’t have someone I felt comfortable sharing them with, I would go into a dark theatre, stand on stage, and deliver a monologue to an imaginary audience. I would simply say whatever I felt needed to be spoken. I would use all of my performance technique to give the space my story.

In InterPlay language, I was exforming through storytelling, passing burdens too great for me to bear out of my body.

One day, as I was speaking about whatever was coming up for me that day, I had a feeling that I was being heard. Not by a person, but by the air around me. Now, I don’t believe that there is a person-like God; I’m not comfortable with the idea of a transpersonal consciousness of any sort; and I don’t know what senses were triggered to give me that feeling, but I felt witnessed, heard, and accepted.

I have no explanation for my experience. The feeling was of being connected to the world outside me and held.

The Wonder of Possibility

A dark theatre consists of matte, black empty space in which an experience or story can be built. The paint is specially formulated to be a true black, absorbing all light. This creates an unusual atmosphere in a dark theatre.

Light from a ghost light, the small light that is left centre stage when the theatre is empty, casting just enough light for a stagehand to move safely into the space before the main lights can be turned on, is not reflected off any surface. There is a soft mystery to the black where the light hits. The lack of expected reflection tickles the brain, suggesting a lack of reality at the edges of the space.

In general, the true black of a theatrical space feels comforting and homey to me. This is not surprising. I have been hanging out in performance spaces for decades. But, once, when I was directing a play, I went into the theatre to have a look at the space in preparation for rehearsals and I had an entirely different experience.

The theatre was empty for a few hours. The previous show had been moved out that morning and the show that would be in the space while mine was in rehearsal hadn’t started moving in yet. For a brief moment in time, I could see the space empty and envision my show in there.

I walked from backstage across the stage towards the audience and planted myself in the centre before I turned back to look at the performance space with the widest view I could hold without stepping off the stage. I looked carefully around the space, trying to convert the ground plans and scenic design drawings into a three-dimensional image in my mind’s eye. Once I had that image constructed, I visualized some of the staging I was planning and imagined the actors speaking some of the important lines in various locations.

When I had an image that was strong, I turned out to face the empty seats, where the audience would be. I intended to continue the visualization exercise, to imagine the impact I wanted to play to have on the audience, but I didn’t get a chance.

As I turned, my visual focus softened. I saw everything muted, in a soft silence, and felt my body warm. The hairs on my skin stood up and I tingled everywhere my body touched air. Except for the fact that there was no visual effect, I would have said I glowed. I was struck with wonder at the infinite possibility of life, not only as contained within the confines of the theatre, but out into the rest of the world beyond.


And then, as suddenly as it had come, the feeling was gone and I was standing comfortably in a familiar theatre.

How Big is the Universe?

When I was part of the Summer Training Institute at Shakespeare & CompanySusan Dibble, the choreographer and movement instructor led an exercise that I wish I could remember in detail. It was part of the work she did to help actors bring the Elizabethan concept of the Great Chain of Being into their bodies.

The Great Chain of Being is a philosophical idea that there is a natural hierarchy of beings with God at the top, followed by the angels, the human hierarchy (king, noble, peasant, serf), the animals, plants, and inert matter. To change one’s individual place was to destabilise the whole system.

This concept was an accepted part of the culture in Shakespeare’s England, and being able to live with it in our bodies helped us capture the period more accurately in our performances. We did a lot of work trying to embody that idea.

In one exercise, Susan Dibble got us to imagine ourselves a each level of the chain of being and get in touch with it using some guidance she provided. When she got to the highest levels, one of the images she had us work with was omnipresence. And, I don’t remember what she said that triggered my experience, but I my whole sense of self exploded and I connected viscerally and emotionally with the vastness of the cosmos and the emptiness of the universe. I don’t know how long that experience lasted. From my lived perspective, time was non-existent.

What I remember even more vividly is coming back to normal reality. I trembled and retreated into myself, wrapping myself into a ball to bring myself back into my body, humbled by the enormity of the cosmos and the tiny, limited reality of human existence. Slowly, I integrated the experience and went on with my classes. But, I have never forgotten the vastness, the complete otherness of the universe.

The world’s traditions are full of people who have had simliar experiences, labelled them with the language of their local religious traditions, and been inspired to do good in and for the world. My language of explanation is secular, science-based and humanist.

The words we use to speak of such experiences matter less than the fact that they are universal, human experiences: moments where our consciousness jumps into another state and we are no longer aware of the space between ourselves and the universe.

And for me, they have always come in theatrical contexts.